Much like a heavy freight train, once the Marquette Golden Eagles got going the end result Saturday, a 71-48 victory over Samford (5-9) was inevitable.
That was illustrated by just three lead changes that all occurred in the first half.
But before the inevitable, the Golden Eagles (8-5) were given a big scare.
On a first-half fastbreak dunk, Jamil Wilson was fouled from behind and landed on the floor awkwardly. He spent a few moments on the ground clutching his left knee as Davante Gardner waved off medical assistance.
Wilson grimaced his way to the free throw line, missed his and-one attempt and departed the game at the next timeout. He went to the locker room shortly thereafter and returned to the bench before the end of the first half.
Wilson’s day was done after five minutes of action. Coach Buzz Williams said Wilson was getting an MRI during his news conference, which started just before 4 p.m.
“I would say he’s fine,” Williams said. “He probably tweaked something.”
With the Big East opener set for Tuesday night at 9 p.m. at Creighton (9-2), Williams wasn’t going to take any chances with one of the key components of his team.
“I think he could have played. He wanted to play, ” Williams said of Wilson. “In the last non-conference game, regardless of who our opponent was, I don’t think I would have played him. It was the conservative approach to make sure nothing structurally is wrong.
“Or if there is something wrong, let’s not make it worse than it is.”
While Wilson rested, the Golden Eagles finally opened up a double-digit lead over the final 3:36 of the first half after a Todd Mayo three-pointer. That lead rested at 39-23 at halftime and never dropped beneath 13 points or rose above 23 points in the second half.
Vital to opening that lead was a 14-4 run and the offensive productivity of Jajuan Johnson, who scored a team-high 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and Mayo, who netted 13 points on 3-of-6 shooting while wearing a face mask to protect his broken nose.
Both players did most of their work in the first half, scoring seven and nine points respectively in that frame, but they provided a scoring punch that the backcourt has inconsistently provided this season.
“I always knew Jajuan Johnson was a scorer,” Mayo said. “He’s just a pure scorer. He’s like I was as a freshman and we’re going to need that down the stretch.”
Deonte Burton, 13 points, and Gardner, 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, joined Johnson and Mayo in double figures as the Golden Eagles finished with 19 assists on 23 made baskets on 48.9 percent shooting.
Those four combined to outscore the Bulldogs’ bench, 50-12.
“Our bench plays a really big role for us because some of our bench players could start really,” said Burton, whose monster slam was the play of the day.
Although the game was close early, the silver lining for Marquette was its ball movement. The Golden Eagles netted 10 assists on their 11 first-half baskets.
Samford drilled a mere 14.3 percent of its three-pointers (1 of 7) and 34.6 percent of its first-half field goals (9 of 26) while the Golden Eagles countered with 44 percent shooting (11 of 25) and 37.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc (3 of 8) in the opening frame.
It took some time for the offense to get going as the Golden Eagles failed to score in their first three possessions that included a missed point-blank shot at the rim by Wilson and two turnovers.
“We came out slow,” Burton said. “We didn’t come out as ourselves.”
Samford, a team with eight newcomers and just two seniors (both walk-ons), scored the game’s first four points and found itself down six, 25-19 with 5:29 left in the first half.
“The issue with our team is are you going to play 25 minutes and score 14 against Samford or are you going to play seven minutes in a neutral-site game against New Mexico,” Williams said.
But when the game ended, that slow start was long forgotten. Walk-on Dylan Flood entering the game with 1:07 left made that very clear.